How does Instagram Search and Explore Work?

Instagram Search

Click on the search magnifying glass icon in Instagram to get to the Search and Explore tab. You can search for Places (location tags), Tags (hashtags), People (other users) and Top (everything). The results that come up differ for everyone as they are based on the people you follow, what content you like on Instagram and users you’re connected to. The first nine results are the top posts and after that, the most recent.

Instagram Explore

The Explore tab shows posts Instagram thinks you might like, based on your activity on Instagram. What you like, comment on, who you follow etc. are all contributing factors to which posts Instagram selects for you. There is further categorization in the Explore tab, not only the For You section, but Sports, Science & Tech, Food, Humor, TV & Movies, Style, DIY, Travel, Nature, Art, Fitness, and Animals. This makes it more likely, if you get featured, your content will be seen by the right audience, resulting in a higher chance of increasing likes and new followers.

How To Get Featured on Instagram

Being featured on the Search and Explore tab is obviously a fantastic way to boost the visibility of your Instagram posts. Your posts will be exposed to a whole new group of users beyond your established follower base; it can also result in more engagement on your posts and a boost in followers.
A recent article I discovered on Medium really broke down the importance of following the basic rule of thumb in growing your Instagram

The Instagram Post Location Tag

Your posts need to be searchable in order to appear on the ‘Search’ tab. Make them searchable by adding a location tag to each post. Be sure to add location tags to all your Instagram Stories as well, because these are now being featured on Search and Explore.

Using Instagram Hashtags

Another way to boost the searchability of your posts on Instagram is to add in a few hashtags. You are permitted to add up to 30 hashtags per post but adding that many is often viewed as spammy or desperate. Nine hashtags will generally be enough.


Aside from the first nine posts in the search, the most recent posts appear in chronological order. So, timing is everything. To maximize visibility to your target audience, find out when they are online, searching and scrolling Instagram and post then. This gives your posts a greater chance of being seen on the searches. Using Instagram Insights with your business account enables you to find the exact hours of the day your followers are most active.

Post Exceptional Content

Since the top results in the Search are the based on popularity – likes, comments and shares – posting exceptional content users are engaging with is the best way to get seen on the Search and Explore section. Location and hashtags are also good ways to encourage engagement and are also needed to make your post searchable. Think about using high-resolution photos, which tend to get more likes and comments. Also consider using a niche hashtag that your target audience will primarily be using, making it more likely your post will be featured at the top because there will be less competition.

Finding Hashtags

Another way to use the Search and Explore tab on Instagram is to find out which hashtags users are searching for, and then adding them into your future posts. The way this works is that you search for one hashtag, and Instagram will come up with all the related hashtags, and the number of posts for each hashtag.

Encourage Use of Branded Hashtags

Fans could be posting about your brand and without tagging your account, you may never find out. If they were to tag your account, use a branded hashtag or your location then you would be able to easily find the post. A great way to encourage this behavior is to create a branded hashtag and give incentives to fans to use it. For example, encourage users to add your hashtag by promising to re-post their photos on your account. Engagement such as liking or commenting on posts who’ve tagged you in any way is also appreciated and makes users more likely to use your hashtag again and also makes your hashtag more searchable on Search and Explore.

Engage in Locations

As a local business, engaging in posts in your local area can be valuable for building a larger customer base. You should also create a Location tag for your business if you haven’t already, and then check it regularly. Any posts that are using this tag, be sure to interact with them and ask if they enjoyed their experience at your business. This builds an important relationship between you and your customers, creating a loyal and strong connection.

Finding Influencers

The leading way to create new business or boost your popularity as a business is through word of mouth. And yes, word of mouth on Instagram counts. Use the Search function to find Influencers you could potentially collaborate with. This is a very effective way to sway consumer behavior. A study by Dr. Berger concluded that 82% of consumers were highly likely to act on a recommendation by an Influencer, and 73% more likely from an average person. So, as well as focusing on the ‘average person’, try and use Influencers to further your reach.

A great way to find Influencers is through the People option in the Search section. Type in the relevant category, such as Food or Fashion, and see who comes up top. Instagram sorts these into your location and profiles you follow, making the top few picks tailored for you. You can also use the Explore section as it might be even more relevant to you as it takes into account more factors, such as the people you follow and the posts you like. Check out the profiles and see if any of them could be a potential collaborator.

As you can see, there are a number of different ways to use Instagram’s Search and Explore function for your business. From being featured to boost brand awareness and finding the best hashtags for your brand, to discovering posts relevant for you to engage with and search for possible collaborators.